Written by: Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons
In the early ’90s, Luke Perry was the definition of cool.
He had the cool haircut, the cool sideburns, and he was on the coolest show for the 18-34 demographic in 1991: Beverly Hills, 90210.
Let’s face it: the zip code alone was cool. Perry played Dylan McKay, the loner recovering alcoholic who rode motorcycles, read Gabriel Garcia Marquez and could always be found somewhere brooding about something.
But Perry didn’t become cool overnight.
He had to pay his dues, mostly on soap operas. He was on the soaps Loving then Another World and he did an independent film called Terminal Bliss, which included a controversial rape scene.
But it was Dylan that made him famous.
I’ll be honest; I couldn’t get into 90210 most of the time. They seemed so shallow and I couldn’t empathize with their problems: having too much money, not relating to their parents, wondering if Donna Martin was going to graduate or not. When my best friend Meranda and I watched the show, we usually made ruthless fun of it. Kelly’s addicted to drugs! Again! Brenda is being sent to Paris as a punishment! Will Donna be able to see Color Me Badd? (Yes, she did.)
But I always respected Dylan. He was an outsider and Perry played him with a ruthless honesty that I found refreshing. Yeah, he looked way too old to be in high school, but so what? During a Very Special Episode when David’s old friend Scott Scanlon accidentally killed himself with a gun, people walked around sad and devastated. A choir sang “Somewhere” from West Side Story. Brenda remarked how sad it was. Dylan finally said “…I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but which one was Scott Scanlon? When you told me, I thought it was that kid over there.”
Cool detachment, indeed.
Perry was on every teen magazine in 1991-1992, the cover of People twice, and every mall appearance brought out hysterical screaming of teenage girls. But he didn’t hesitate in poking fun at himself. In the Simpsons episode, Krusty Gets Kancelled, Perry played Krusty’s half brother, Sideshow Luke Perry. He made a vintage carousel from balloons, and after being shot by a cannon and heading towards a glass building, he yelled, “Aah! My face! My valuable face!”
Perry made several films and left 90210 in 1995. He took chances in his acting roles. On the gritty prison drama Oz, he played a disgraced minister and went full frontal. Alas, he became one of the show’s many many casualties. He did several guest-starring roles on TV and was recently introduced to a brand new generation as Archie’s dad in Riverdale.
When I heard he died from a massive stroke at 52, I couldn’t get my head around it.
In my mind he’s still that brooding boy who wore bowling shirts.
Then again, you never forget your first crush–especially a cool one.